Talk Like Blood
artway through the second song on Talk Like Blood, all the instruments drop out except the fuzzed guitar hitting a few staccato eighth notes. That moment of isolation bears re-playing—right then 31 Knots shed both the "art" and the "punk" of their genre descriptor and reveal their core. The vocalist comes back in, singing, "This is just transition, nothing more." With this tight a finished product, we have to wonder what the line refers to (beyond the obvious courtroom drama of "Hearsay").
It's hard to consider 31 Knots in transition if they're just starting out, but they aren't. The group actually released two previous albums as well as some equally obscure EPs. Together since 1997, the band finally found a bigger home this year when Polyvinyl signed them up for both their The Curse of the Longest Day EP and this album. Churning out complex rock isn't a surefire way to success, but it is puzzling that it took eight years for the band to be noticed.
The band has some math-rock tendencies, but for every wandering prog journey, there's a compelling hook or noticeable melodic bassline. For every invitation to dance, though, there's some punch spilled on your dress. "Chain Reacton" gives the album one of its more straightforward moments, but even when the aggression turns over to instrumental pop, 31 Knots won't quite let you shake it. Just when you settle back into your seat, Jay Winebrenner takes off on a bass run that has more to do with closed-eye jazz at it does with gobbed-up punk.
For all the band's precision, they never slide into the stylings of art-school dropouts. These compositions are smart, but they're dirty, too. There's a hint of Fugazi here, but not so much so that you'll revert to that part of your collection. At the same time, the band's made sure their recording and producing went smoothly and suited their needs. Scott Solter (John Vanderslice collaborator and producer for Spoon, Tarantel, and the Mountain Goats) worked on about half the tracks, but there's no difference in quality between those numbers and the ones the band handled themselves. The production brings out the full tone of the music, but never leaves a shine.
The band sounds its best when utilizing odd sounds, distortion, or startled organ runs. It struggles more when it leans toward the norm. "A Void Employs a Kiss" opens with a Southern frat-rock vibe, and while the song recovers, largely due to Joe Haege's vocals, the album loses the dark assertiveness it had been riding so well. After that, "Proxy and Dominion" opens with an intriguing piano part, but turns into a standard post-punk number that we're hearing enough of these days (but with piano). Even with this stumble, though, the band reveals their inherent originality: if the piano didn't offer enough of a unique tone, the song's break sounds like a classical piece being overthrown by punk drumming.
The album's final three tracks don't quite rebound , but in a different setting, they would probably hold their own. Even still, you've got to feel excited to see 31 Knots coming into their own. This could be a transition album, but for those of us who never saw them when they were little (and for those who did), it's fun to think that this one is the start of something.